My Music Streaming Solution

I’ve been collecting mp3s for years. I have about 32,000 files, over 200GB of music.

What I haven’t had is a way to play them on my good stereo gear in the living room. Sure, I can load a bunch of them onto my Android phone and play them that way, but that’s not super convenient. However it has been the method so far.

There have not been any really good solutions in the past that did what I wanted. I wanted a shared library, so I can play the songs on multiple devices. That means I can’t store the music on my desktop (which I didn’t want to do anyway.)

For a while I had the mp3s on an iomega NAS device and they were shared out with DLNA and SMB. But iTunes doesn’t really like to share it’s library. You can force it to write the database file to a network device, but when you open it with a different copy of iTunes on a different computer things get messy. And you have to make sure you have the same version of iTunes everywhere.

Then the disks in the NAS started going bad, so I moved the mp3s to a big linux box in the basement.  For a while I just had everything on one server, and it was getting crowded. Then I bought my Dell C6100 and had room and CPU to spare. I have one entire blade setup to run my Plex media server and store my mp3s. It has about 7TB of space in a RAID and it’s loafing all the time, which is great.

But I still didn’t have a way to play my mp3s in the living room.

Back in the day there was the Roku Soundbridge (now discontinued). I really wanted one, but I didn’t want to pay the money, and it didn’t really have all the features I wanted.

Logitech also made the Squeezebox (now discontinued) but again it wasn’t time to buy.

I have a Roku 2 streaming box for my TV and the mp3s can be played through the Plex media server, but there are two issues with that

  1. My TV and my stereo are not connected (and probably won’t be for some time) and
  2. You need to have the TV on so you can see to navigate the music library.

Not the best option.

In the past for parties I have put a laptop on top of the stereo and used that to stream, but who wants to keep a laptop on the stereo all the time with all the hassle that entails?

So the other day I decided to do some searching to see what was current in the audio streaming market. There are some really expensive audiophile grade network streamers out there, and there are now some stereo receivers with Wi-Fi built in that can stream, but neither of those were what I was looking for.

Then I found the Sonos Connect. It looked like it might do the job. Instead of a remote control, you install an app on your smart phone to drive it. Which means that anyone who lives here can install the app and use it. This looked promising.

There was one thing that made me do some more research. Sonos devices have never supported DLNA and the forums seemed to indicate that they had no real plans to do so. The Plex server shares mp3s with DLNA.

The Connect will mount an SMB share though and index the library internally, but there are some limitations (mostly the fact that you can’t have more than 65,000 mp3s – which is not really a problem for me yet.)

Then I found a piece of media streaming software named Subsonic that promised to support the Connect. So I installed it to see what I could see.

The Connect did indeed connect to the Subsonic server, but the server had it’s own quirks:

  • It sorts the mp3s using the directory structure, not the tags, so you need to have everything arranged in artist/album/song format. Which mine were not. It does use the tags to grab other info – like genre, year, etc. Weird.
  • Speaking of genre – the list of genres appeared to come out randomly sorted, until I figured out they were sorted by number of albums in each genre. Wat?
  • If you selected a genre, all the albums in that genre came out unsorted also.

But I figured I’d stick it out a bit. So I used MediaMonkey and MP3Tag to clean up the tags on all my albums and re-arrange them into the correct folder structure. It took about 6 hours over several days. It was kind of neat to rediscover some of my music though. 🙂

I still wasn’t happy with Subsonic though. I couldn’t get over the genre sorting issue.

In the end I decided to try just mounting the library on the Connect as an SMB share and letting the Connect index it (which took about 45 minutes.) This seems to be the cleanest and simplest solution so far.

The other main complaint that people had about the Connect is that the DAC is not very good. I thought it sounded a little tinny and was missing some bass myself. But my receiver has optical inputs so I grabbed a cable and it seems to have better sound.

So, the final solution is:

  • Library on a linux (Ubuntu) server shared out with Samba
  • Library management with MediaMonkey and MP3Tag
  • Streaming with Sonos Connect directly mounting the library via SMB

So far I’m happy with it.

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